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County to cut nearly 500 jobs, citizens say human services will be harmed

More than 100 people converged on Bellevue City Hall last week to urge the King County Council to restore funding to the human services element of the 2011 county budget.

A large portion of the cuts to the county budget involves significantly reducing funding to human services groups.

Audience members filled the Council Chambers, overflowing into the hallway, and more than 40 people spoke to the county council, including advocacy groups for single mothers, child abuse recovery services, public defenders, at-risk youth groups and countless other organizations. Almost every speaker preached the message that the groups help people in a preventative fashion, and without the funding to do that, the county will be spending all the more money on them after damage has been done.

“They’re not going away just because the budget does,” said Dave Osmer, president of the Board of Directors for the Eastside Domestic Violence Program. “They will wind up back in your lap whether it’s in the jail, in the courts or in hospital beds.”

Many of these services would lose hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that they couldn’t make up should the budget cuts stick.

County Executive Dow Constantine last week unveiled his budget, which features large cuts in criminal justice and human services in the general fund portion. More than 80 percent of the county’s revenue goes to dedicated funds, meaning they can only be spent on the service through which they were collected.

Under Constantine’s budget, 462 positions would be eliminated, with 190 layoffs needed.

Voters can choose to restore some of the cuts, specifically criminal justice services, by passing a .2 percent sales tax increase. That measure would not restore all human services — just the ones under the criminal services umbrella, like domestic violence victim services.

Representatives young and old spoke — in several languages — for the various groups. They worked for these organizations or were affected by them. Many of the speakers credited the respective organizations with improving their lives significantly. Single mothers, working and raising children, depended on Healthy Start to help them find care and other services for their children.

The Children’s Response Center stood by mothers as they watched young children detail cases of sexual abuse, and go through the grueling court process.

Public defenders, who are constitutionally mandated to represent individuals who can’t afford their own legal services, would continue to work, but without the funding to pay some of their salaries.

The clear message from the groups was to work harder to find a revenue stream to support these services, which are crucial to the community.

“The proposed cuts will cause long-term harm to the most vulnerable residents,” said Liz Mills, East King County regional director for the YWCA. “All of us are responsible for finding better outcomes. We need a new, balanced approach and a long-term dedicated funding source for human services.”

Others felt the county should look inward, at salaries and benefits of employees, before punishing the human services contingent and passing along an increase in sales tax. County officials have succeeded in persuading many of its workers to forego cost-of-living adjustments, but several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting advocated reopening union contracts and trying to find savings there.

“The private sector’s not getting COLAs; the private sector’s not getting big raises; the private sector is going bankrupt,” said Kathy Schroeder. “You can’t keep taking money from the private sector and funding this county that is growing like a malignant cancer.”

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